June record: 2-0-0 (3-0-1 all competitions)
Overall record: 11-3-2 (12-3-3 all competitions)
MLS Results: @ Chicago Fire (3-2), @ D.C. United (1-0)
USOC Results: vs. PSA Elite (5-0), vs. San Jose Earthquakes (1-1, 4-1 on PKs)
Sounders FC always knew the month of June would be a depth-tester. Despite just two MLS matches on the schedule, Seattle had obstacles to overcome with Open Cup matches added to the calendar, two long road trips and the loss of two star players to World Cup duties.
Yet still, Seattle extended its lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings with two long-distance road victories and advanced to the Open Cup quarterfinals with a pair of matches at the friendly confines of Starfire Stadium.
“It’s been really good for us between the league and the Open Cup,” Sounders FC Sporting Director Chris Henderson said. “We’re happy. We’re showing the depth of the team. Guys are stepping up. But it’ll be nice to get everyone back after the World Cup.”
In the meantime, Seattle has turned its hot start of the season into a 10-point lead in the Western Conference standings thanks in large part to that depth.
Three different players scored goals and 16 different players appeared in Seattle’s two league matches, while the Open Cup saw 17 different players take the field. That has included Aaron Kovar making his Sounders FC and MLS debut, the first professional start for Sean Okoli and the first appearances of 2014 by David Estrada.
With Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin away on World Cup duty, Djimi Traore out because of injury and Obafemi Martins playing just 42 minutes before picking up a red card against the Chicago Fire on June 7, Head Coach Sigi Schmid has utilized his depth with confidence because of a good mix of veterans and hungry young players on the verge of breaking through.
“I think with the way the team trains and veterans we have in the team who have done it with other clubs that have been licking their chops to get another chance to show what they can do, I think it’s a good formula for a successful team,” Henderson said. “When you have guys who have something to prove who are quality players and then you have young players who are hungry to get in and get their chance, that training environment makes it really competitive for spots even when you’re missing your stars.”
In Seattle’s two MLS matches, Brad Evans has played a key defensive role, shifting to right back in Yedlin’s absence. Meanwhile, Chad Barrett has started four straight matches and picked up his fourth goal of the season on Saturday. Before he was red-carded against Chicago, Martins was well on his way to a great month, too, scoring twice against the Fire in a 3-2 win.
In Open Cup play, four different players scored goals, Kenny Cooper leading the way with three goals over two matches. Meanwhile, Marcus Hahnemann allowed just one goal in 210 minutes in those two matches.
Teams around MLS have struggled while playing without their top players because of World Cup duty. Of the 11 teams with players at the World Cup, only Seattle, Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy have posted winning records since their first player was called in, while the Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake have all played at least five matches while winning just once.
Henderson credits the success Dempsey and Yedlin have had with the U.S. as a partial reason for Seattle’s success back home.
“Having two of our players down there and playing for the U.S. National Team is bringing our guys energy here. It’s a boost for our club,” Henderson said. “We’re all proud of them. They’ve both been doing great.”
Now with a healthy lead in the Western Conference standings, Seattle has a difficult month ahead in July. Sounders FC opens the month on Saturday on the road against their Cascadia rivals in Whitecaps FC, then hosts the Portland Timbers twice in five days – first in the U.S. Open Cup at Starfire on July 9, then in a full-stadium MLS match on July 13. The month concludes with a home clash against the LA Galaxy, but also includes a friendly with Tottenham Hotspur, bringing even more star power to CenturyLink Field in what stands to be a month to remember for Sounders FC.